PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — For a time last year, Oregon was on the road to giving driving privileges to people living in the country illegally until a small anti-immigrant group decided to put the state’s love affair with ballot measures to use against the law.
Oregonians for Immigration Reform rounded up just enough signatures — about 150 more than it needed — to stop the law in its tracks before the state even handed out the first license, and put the measure before voters in November.
It will be the first time that voters in any state will weigh in on the driver’s license issue.
“People just can’t pick and choose which laws they want to obey,” said Jim Ludwick, founder and president of a group which believes legal and illegal immigration heightens unemployment, crime and terrorist activity.
It’s hard to gauge voters’ opinions on the law because there has been no polling on a measure that seems more conservative Arizona than progressive Oregon.
Mid-term elections are generally smaller and more conservative, but this year’s ballot may draw younger and more liberal voters because there are measures to legalize marijuana and label genetically modified foods.
The measure comes at a time when lawmakers around the country have been granting immigrants more privileges as immigration reform fails to make any headway in Congress — a shift after a decade of anti-illegal immigration laws.
Oregon denied giving the licenses five years ago, but reversed course last year as it joined seven states in granting the privilege. Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the law at a May Day rally at the state Capitol in front of a cheering crowd of 2,000 supporters.
“This bill is part of a larger vision, one where all Oregonians deserve and get their shot at the American dream,” Kitzhaber said, whose state has a small, though fast-growing, foreign-born population.
Ludwick’s group saw it differently, using an initiative system that has enabled the passage of measures that have helped Oregon earn its liberal image: medical marijuana and the first-in-the-nation assisted suicide law.
The system sets a relatively low bar for getting a measure on the ballot and doesn’t require geographic distribution of petition signatures. Oregon holds the record for the most statewide initiatives in the nation.
Ludwick’s group collected 58,291 valid signatures — just over the required amount.
The law, which was to take effect in January, would have allowed immigrants and others to apply for drivers’ cards that cannot be used to vote, board a plane, get benefits or buy firearms.
Measure 88 asks Oregonians whether they want to reaffirm the law passed by the Legislature.
Ludwick’s group, which has gathered $28,000 in contributions, does not have a campaign office and is run by volunteers, who are knocking on doors, posting on Facebook and setting up info tables at fairs.
In a big campaign boost, the group this spring was able to secure support of 28 of the state’s 36 elected sheriffs to oppose the drivers’ cards. Its other endorsements come from a handful of Republican politicians.
Proponents of driving privileges, on the other hand, have garnered support and $64,000 from over 100 eclectic organizations, from various unions to the Oregon Association of Nurseries.
Thousands of immigrants work in Oregon’s nurseries, orchards and farm fields, so the state’s agriculture industry has been especially supportive of the licenses.
The pro-drivers’ license campaign, which has an office in downtown Portland, has also been knocking on doors and taking to social media. It has rolled out an online series of photographs featuring unauthorized immigrants, their families and allies.
One of those featured is Ramiro Sandoval, a landscaper who left Mexico 10 years ago and lives in the Portland area with his wife and two U.S. citizen children. Sandoval lost his job as a chauffeur when he wasn’t able to renew his license this year.
He ended up taking a lower-paying job, stretching his family’s finances. He now carpools to work and uses his bike for errands.
“Not having a license affects everything, from getting rejected for a job, to not being able to take my son to school when it’s raining, to not being able to go to the store to buy groceries or to drive my kids to the beach or a lake,” he said.
He added that he occasionally drives in case of emergencies, such as taking his kids to the hospital.